- Elsewhere, by Dean Koontz. HarperCollins, $32.99.
Parallel universes have been a darling of science-fiction since they first received serious scientific attention in the 1950s. Although devices like alternate history have occupied the minds of creatives back to ancient Greece and India, the veneer of dimensional portals, ill-fated doppelgangers, and mad scientists is a distinctly modern preoccupation: one that has seemed to have hit its apex, slowed down, and now threatens to become overdone.
Dean Koontz returns to this zeitgeist in his latest novel, Elsewhere. The story tells of a father-daughter duo, Jeffy and Amity, who are thrown into an escapade straight out of the novels they read when a strange old eccentric leaves them in charge of his universe-hopping "Key to Everything". Koontz synthesises this thriller novel by mushing parts of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and mystery together into a creative and suspenseful adventure. As always, much of the joy in Koontz' adventures comes simply from exploring the man's imagination. In the multi-versal landscape, familiar ground for Koontz, he is free to place increasingly weird and creepy objects before our attention, and though he never actually takes us anywhere beyond what the concept has imagined before, his celebrated skill with suspense and expectation keeps us keen to find out what lies just a little further ahead.
His characters are well-built and well-developed. They are easily introduced in a couple of sentences, without being cliches, but remain fresh and likeable through the hundreds of pages, even if they don't undergo huge transformations. The issues they confront are out there in the multiverse, more than in any internal flaws.
Ultimately, aside from occasionally straying into over-clever dialogue, meta-commentary or cliche (very easy to do in this sort of father-daughter story), Koontz remains an engaging story-teller. In America's current political climate, I suppose it can be hard to avoid, but references to the by-and-large superior moral character of police officers, or, most explicitly a Utopian vision of a world where Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche were never taken seriously, meaning that communism and the Second World War never occurred, and segregation was apparently abolished decades earlier, comes across less as the wise ruminations of a worldly author and more the snide innuendos of an uncle at no-politics-talk family Christmas.
Regardless, exploring the multiverse proved to be varied, engrossing, and thrilling, but materialised something smaller of a story than I'd imagined.
Ending with the resolution of the same comparatively domestic concerns it had entered upon, having never, for all the romp and ride, really departed from or lost track of them.